Mouse blasting piracy

Eisner addresses Congress on Web theft

As lawsuits fly regarding music piracy on the Internet, Walt Disney Co. topper Michael Eisner told lawmakers Wednesday that online copyright infringement damages more than the entertainment industry’s bottom line, putting the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s balance of trade at risk as well.

Reinforcing his role as an outspoken crusader against ‘Net piracy, Eisner brought his message to the Joint Economic Committee and then addressed more than 100 members of Congress on behalf of the Congressional Internet Caucus and the House-Senate judiciary committees.

Eisner noted that copyright-related industries, including movies, TV, homevideo, music, publishing and computer software, contribute more than $530 billion to the U.S. economy — with foreign sales a big chunk of that. Messing with copyrights spells trouble all around.

“The Internet can only achieve its full potential if it is governed by a regard for property rights as grounded in the United States Constitution,” he said. If not, “the development of the Internet will stall and we will risk undermining one of the most positive contributors to our nation’s balance of payments.”

Eisner said the showbiz sector must urgently create watermarkings and other security measures to protect copyrights and asked Congress to consider legislation that would force computer makers and Internet companies to implement the necessary safeguards.

Video jeopardy

While the music industry has borne the brunt of Internet piracy up to now, video in the digital age isn’t far behind. And copies made digitally through the Internet are crystal clear, light years away from the grainy pirated videos sold on street corners.

Eisner showed clips from Walt Disney Studios’ recently released and very costly animated pic “Dinosaur” to illustrate just how sophisticated images can get and how key it is for the companies and artists that create them to get paid.

“Otherwise, the same technology that enabled our artists to create these incredible images could also make them go away,” he said.

Disney had planned to put out “Snow White” in the fall of 2001 on a DVD, Eisner pointed out, but is reconsidering “because once we’ve done that, if there is no protection, that property — which is one of the backbones of our company — is gone forever.”

Eisner has given versions of this speech before, but lawmakers are a key audience to convince since they’re the ones who pass legislation and some of them are skeptical that the livelihood of huge corporations like Disney could be at risk.

“Some people seem to have a hard time understanding that intellectual property is property, like if you created an air conditioner or a car, and if it’s stolen, it’s illegal,” said one Disney exec.

On the music side, the Recording Industry Association of America, rock band Metallica and rapper Dr. Dre have all sued Napster, a service that allows people to download music files for free from the Internet, alleging the company’s software allows computer users to trade copyrighted music online without permission.

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